From “Now Wave” to “Next Wave”: Technology and Transformation of Public Service Delivery

Technical innovation is no longer only about efficiency enhancements. It is about realizing the potential for transformative disruptive shifts.
by | May 12, 2010 AT 3:00 AM

Recently the Ash Center convened federal social service and strategy organizations from the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand at the Harvard Kennedy School. From the U.S., federal officials who are responsible for enhancing performance management and its related technology enablers joined us.

The session –- Frontiers of Service in a Networked World -- took stock of where the opportunities for reform of social service delivery stood. With limited capital to deploy, shrinking budgets and public demands exceeding existing resources, we examined the prospects for reform of services in health, education and safety, from improved analytics, better decision support tools, improved performance management and new thinking about strategic possibilities –- both in co-production of services as well as services co-design.

New strategies for personalization seem more possible than ever, for example, but require new approaches to discretion while assuring that important controls remain. New consolidations and integrations are attractive, but require new models of governance, financing and architecture. New technologies offer much promise, but must integrate with existing systems, business processes, authorities and charters and workforces.

What were the attractive options for investment, the proven pathways for value and the critical factors for success? Some investment might be in the public bureaucracies. Some might be in the computing enterprise and analytic tools that it supports. Some might be in the set of best-practice strategies that flatten the organizations, enhance the discretion of the public official, increase user involvement in design and delivery and personalize service. Some might be in consolidations and integrations that reduce the overall fiscal footprint.

As part of our pre-event research, we collaborated with FutureGov Consultancy to take stock of the "now wave" and the "next wave" of tools that seemed promising. These included "just in time" tools that could support decision-making at the point of service –- whether for a worker, service recipient or policymaker. They included tools that could aid in assuring open government, transparent data and transparent performance.

A deck reporting the range of tools now in use and over the horizon is available here. The main conclusion of conference participants was this: technical innovation is no longer only about efficiency enhancements. It is about, as well, realizing the potential for transformative, disruptive shifts in the relationship between citizens and governments.

Zachary Tumin | Harvard Kennedy School of Government |